TAMPA — Poor clock management was a big story line in the Bucs’ 23-17 loss at Cleveland on Sunday.
On Monday, head coach Todd Bowles said he didn’t want to risk an interception at the end of regulation and preferred to let the game go into overtime.
And that is with a quarterback who has attempted 420 passes this season with only two interceptions; the 0.04 interception percentage is the best of Tom Brady’s career.
Sunday, after a screen pass to Rachaad White netted only 1 yard, Brady threaded a needle to Julio Jones between three defenders for a 26-yard gain. That’s when Bowles finally used a timeout but only 8 seconds remained in regulation.
“It could’ve been an interception as well,” Bowles said. “We said if we didn’t get yards on the first play, we wouldn’t call timeout. We would probably let the clock run. If he saw something, he could throw it. But we didn’t get any yards on the first play. We got 1 or 2 yards with Rachaad and we were backed up.
“So if he had thrown a pick and the ball went the other way and they would’ve kicked a field goal, we felt better going into overtime so I didn’t do it. He threw it on second down, he saw something, got it in the there and we called timeout.”
Could that pass have been intercepted?
“It could’ve been. It was a risky throw, but he got it in there,” Bowles said. “Tom has been making those throws but we felt good going into overtime the way the defense was playing and we felt we had it right there so that’s the call we made.”
The Browns tied the score when tight end David Njoku made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone on fourth and 10 from the Tampa Bay 12-yard line with 32 seconds remaining.
Bowles could have elected to take a timeout after linebacker Lavonte David made a third-down stop of a screen pass to Njoku for a 1-yard loss.
The Browns had one play to tie the score. If they missed, the Bucs would have won.
But if they tied it up, calling timeout after third down would have given Tampa Bay and Brady more time to get into field-goal range.
After Jones’ catch, the Bucs needed only 12 more yards for kicker Ryan Succop to attempt a 54-yard field goal.
But the Bucs let the clock run down, with Bowles explaining he didn’t want to give the Browns time to design a play.
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“It could have been (a way to save time in regulation), but we didn’t want them to talk about it,” he said. “We wanted them to just line up and play and go, so we let it go.”
Bowles said he trusted his defense to keep the Browns out of the end zone in overtime.
The Bucs won the coin toss and drove the ball to the Cleveland 37-yard line. But a hands to the face penalty on offensive tackle Donovan Smith backed the Bucs up to their own 43 and Brady threw incomplete to Mike Evans, forcing a punt.
Bowles was asked Monday about being too conservative on offense.
“I don’t think we’ve played conservative on offense at all,” Bowles said. “You can say that in hindsight about this game, but you don’t think about those things as coaches, you make the best decision possible based on everything that’s been going on and you kind of go from there.
“We had not been moving the football, we had nine three-and-outs, so it wouldn’t have been wise to try to call that one. I made it, I can live with that and I’m okay with it.”
Even at 5-6, the Bucs still lead the woebegone NFC South. But the offense — with Brady at quarterback and Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones at receiver — is averaging only 18.2 points per game.
Bowles still believes the Bucs have time to improve.
“Well, we have to,” he said. “Number one, we’ve done it before. We have to get on the same page and stop making mistakes. We’ve got to coach it better and play it better. There is no secret formula to getting this turned around the right way. ...
“Obviously, it’s a broken record at this point, but as coaches and players that’s what you go back to. You go back to your fundamentals and you play ball. That’s all it is.”
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